Ms. Marvel may be the latest MCU series streaming on Disney+, but it’s also part of something much bigger than affects more than fans of Marvel Studios. Not only is Kamala Khan (played with gumption by newcomer Iman Vellani) the first Pakistani Muslim superhero to grace the cinematic universe, her story also provides a rare opportunity for Western audiences to learn about South Asian history, and for Pakistani and Indian actors to come together to portray said history.
Ms. Marvel episode 4, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (an Emmy and Oscar award-winning director, producer and journalist), sent Kamala to her hometown of Karachi in order to learn what secrets her grandmother can share about their ClanDestine lineage. There, she met fellow hero Red Dagger (played by Aramis Knight) and his mentor Waleed (Farhan Akhtar), and came across unexpected danger that will carry into this week’s episode as well.
Screen Rant spoke to Obaid-Chinoy about what it meant to her to be part of bringing Karachi to life in Ms. Marvel, how actors and crew members of different cultural backgrounds came together, and what fans can expect from episode 5.
Screen Rant: What does it mean to direct for Ms. Marvel? How does it compare to anything you’ve done before?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: I think that it’s the biggest budget project that I’ve directed, for sure. [Laughs] I think that it is truly special to be part of the filmmaking team that is bringing Kamala Khan to life from the comic books, and changing the way we all see superheroes – especially women who are superheroes.
So much of my own work and my own life, and things that I experience, has been bought into the MCU through Ms. Marvel and through the sets and the locations and the textures and the fabrics; the music, the food, and the culture. This is a very special project for me.
What excited you most when you got to set? Was there a detail that you really geeked out over?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: I worked in creating the whole word of episode 4. I worked for months with the set designers, the costume designers, the props people, and the vehicle people in making sure that we were bringing to life the vision that I wanted to create.
We had this drive where I would pull all these photographs and put them in, then I would send them to all the heads of the departments and we would meet and recreate that world. Karachi is my home city; it’s vibrant, it’s colorful, it has so much – and it’s never really been visualized in the manner that I’ve tried to visualize it. So, I wanted it to be an adventure for Kamala, but also an adventure for the audiences.
Episodes 4 and 5 of Marvel shows are typically when things start to really pop off. What can you tease about episode 5?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: What I can say is that Kamala, in my episodes, is finding her identity. And everyone she meets is having a piece [of the] fragments of her identity. Her grandmother tells her that she’s still figuring out who she is, and Kamala has come to her mother’s city to figure out who she is. So, we’re on this great big adventure.
And what I can promise you that episode 5 is an even bigger adventure!
You’ve pulled in some really great guest stars. One in episode 4, and I believe one in episode 5 that people are really excited for. Was that your doing, getting these actors to be a part of Ms. Marvel?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: I worked very hard with Sana Amanat in making sure that we got some of the biggest names in South Asia to play the characters that they play. We have some really powerful women who are playing these big roles, and these hot [topic] men that we’ve pulled from South Asia to play these characters.
I think it’s so important when you are telling a story that you bring actors who bring experiences to that character. And it’s also the first time that we’re bringing Indian and Pakistani actors to work together on the superhero series. You have this diverse crew that is working together, and Marvel has drawn the crew from around the world. They’re not only bringing actors, but they’re bringing people from behind the camera as well, who can lend themselves to that storytelling.
Working on Ms. Marvel was like working at the United Nations; every person came from a different part of the world and brought with them all these incredible experiences. I will say that anyone who worked on this Marvel will tell you that sets are not like that and experiences in filmmaking are not like that. We have been part of something truly historical and special.
Speaking of which, when Ms. Marvel launched in the comic space, a lot of people walked into a comic book shop for the very first time just to get this comic just to be introduced to this character. What does it mean, knowing that when a character makes the jump to the screen, even more fans come in that may not have otherwise watched a Marvel show?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: I think that Ms. Marvel is bringing millions of people who are getting introduced to the MCU because of Kamala. And I think that that is very special for Disney and Marvel to introduce the character that brings fans into the fandom.
I think in telling the Kamala Khan story, Marvel is continuing in the footsteps of breaking the mold of who is a superhero, and what it means to be a superhero. I think they opened the floodgates with Black Panther, but Ms. Marvel is – even more than Black Panther – a story rooted in a family, in a culture, and in a religion. And in the family dynamics that you fall in love with. You want to try that food, and you want to go to that wedding, and you want to wear those textiles.
I think they’ve done a wonderful job in giving us free rein [when] creating that world that we’re introducing to the rest of the world.
Ms. Marvel Synopsis
A great student, an avid gamer and a voracious fan-fiction scribe, she has a special affinity for superheroes, particularly Captain Marvel. But Kamala struggles to fit in at home and at school—that is, until she gets super powers like the heroes she’s always looked up to. Life is easier with super powers, right?
Ms. Marvel releases new episodes on Disney+ every Wednesday.
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